Food Friday--CSA in Review

This week I decided to just post a general reflection on my experience doing the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for the first time last summer (2012). Spoiler alert: I've already sent in my subscription payment for summer 2013. So that tells you something.

Here is what I learned by participating in a CSA:

1. Summer is actually several seasons. Rather than just looking at mid-June to the end of August as one big block of summer, I became much more aware of how the growing season shifts and changes every few weeks. I was much more connected to the passage of time--in a good way! We shortchange our earth when we only subdivide it into four main climate categories: spring, summer, fall, winter. I learned to think in terms of "green leafy things season," "beet season," "zucchini season" (okay, "zucchini millenium"), and so forth. When the acorn squash started showing up, I knew we were moving into fall even though it was still quite warm out in these parts.
       I grew up on a small one-family farm--I grew up eating fresh produce from the garden, my mother canned everything and made homemade bread, and my father made homemade maple syrup. We were a real back-to-nature-movement family. So I'm probably more tied to the land than the average folk my age. But you don't pay that much attention when you're a kid. Now I was paying attention, and it was pretty dang cool. Somehow, it made summer seem to last longer.

2. A little produce can go a long way. At the beginning of the summer we were getting one bag full of stuff. By mid-summer, I was hauling a couple of overfull, incredibly heavy bags plus a few other containers to try to get everything home. I did fairly well keeping up with it, except for when I was on the road. The fam wasn't good at using fresh produce if I wasn't around to force the issue. There were two memorable occasions when I had to toss out a lot of stuff that had gone bad before I had the time to deal with it.
     The reality is, with my job and summer schedule, I just don't have time do canning. That would the ideal, of course. However, until such a time as I'm no longer on the road several weeks out of the growing season, I have begun exploring vacuum sealers and may be able to quickly seal and freeze or refrigerate produce so I can work it into my schedule more easily. I'll come up with something.

3. It's an extraordinarily creative endeavor, finding recipes and inspiration for using (1) vegetables you've never worked with before (yes, I mean you, kale), and (2) vegetables you're getting week after week and are thinking you'll scream if you see another one (stop trying to hide, zucchini--you know who I'm talking about). I had a blast! I was tossing combinations that I'd never tried before into the pan just to see what would happen. I'd wander through my spice cupboard, sniffing spices to see what smelled right for whatever concoction I was working on. Some were more successful than others, but they were all a blast to do!

4. Purple green beans and bell peppers are just fun. 'Nuff said.

So, yes, I'm doing the CSA again next year. And having done it once, I'll be fore-armed with some tried-and-true recipes to turn to while I'm working new ones in. I'll also hopefully be fore-armed with better long-term storage methods so I'll be able to have the benefit of my CSA well into the winter months.

I would adore finding a dairy CSA that's got goat cheese involved. Now that would be heaven!

Check out your area--see if you have a CSA near you. Give it a shot! If you're single or a couple or a very small family, you might want to talk to a neighbor or friend to see if you want to share a subscription the first summer, until you get a feel for how much produce you'll be getting. Each CSA works differently, so be sure you read the information thoroughly. Check Local Harvest for more information about what a CSA is, how they work in general, and listings of CSAs in your area. (And no, this is not a paid endorsement! That's how I found my CSA, and I also check it for area farmers' markets and the like. It's a great resource.)

It's not too early to start thinking about what you'll be eating next summer. In fact, I can't think of anything better to do when the snow starts blowing!

Food Friday--CSA-I-Have-No-Idea-What-Week-It-Is

This week's pick-up. We're getting smaller as we reach the end of our growing season around here, but we're also getting into some of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Still going strong on bell peppers and getting into winter squash. Yum.

  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 3 small tomatoes
  • 3 bell peppers (1 red, 1 orange, and 1 different type of red I've never had before. Unfortunately the orange had an issue when I cut into it so it got tossed--and that's the beauty of real farm food--but the other red that was unfamiliar to me actually almost tasted like an apple--that one and the other red pepper, which had a really wonderfully intense red bell pepper flavor, were fantastic!)
  • 3 leeks
  • 1 eggplant
  • A few eating apples, and a few baking apples
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 baking pumpkin

I immediately used the bell peppers, leeks, and two of the tomatoes for dinner by sauteeing those altogether in my Wild Mushroom and Sage-flavored oil with some garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and tarragon. I added in some diced cooked chicken, and just a dash of my Lemon Bouquet Balsamic Vinegar right at the end to brighten it up a bit. I ate it over whole wheat pasta. Very, very tasty! Leftovers for lunch tomorrow--woot.

I wasn't able to use much of the CSA for the last few weeks because I was gone on weekends which is when I do most of my prep work with the fresh produce. I gave a lot to my MIL, but some just went bad before I could use it, unfortunately. I didn't even have time to freeze or do any other storage techniques, either. I'm actually relieved to be getting less every week now--it's much easier to use up while it's fresh.

Here are some other pictures I took along the way of what I was able to make over the last few weeks.

Apple crisp. Not bad, but I'm still looking for a better recipe. And, since I'm trying to eat a lot healthier these days, I'm not sure I should actually find a better recipe.

Corn chowder with fresh corn on the cob. This was my favorite new recipe of the season. My daughter and I are huge fans now. Yes, I can make it with frozen corn any time of the year but the corn I was getting through the CSA was the absolute best I've ever had, so frozen store corn just won't quite hack it.

And this is just a really pretty purple pepper we got a few weeks ago. It tasted like a normal bell pepper, but isn't it gorgeous? I love the green inside next to the purple outside. Beautiful.

At some point I'll do a summary of what I feel about CSAs now that I've done it for the first time. I've really enjoyed it, but there are certain things from the experience that surprised me. I'm still pondering a bit. Hopefully I'll be able to put up a few blog posts for next week that are back to quilty matters. Meanwhile, have a great weekend!

Food Friday--Report on CSA Week 8 and Pick-up Week 9 (and a brief moment of quilty)

If you're not a foodie and just want some fabric-quilty-stuff, here's a quick pic of one ongoing project I'm working on...

Now, back to food!

Oh, we have reached the bounty of summer!

Remember last week's haul? I've done pretty well at using it all this week, with the exception of one zucchini that's carrying over into this week's dinner explorations. (I might be resorting to zucchini bread.)

Fortunately, we had family over for dinner on Friday night so I used up quite a bit of the produce right away. We did a marinated flank steak--or three, since we had a couple of young adult males in the mix--and bought a loaf of French bread because I ran out of time to make homemade. Other than that, Dinner Brought to You by McCracken Farms.

Two cucumbers were turned into a cucumber and tomato salad with Italian dressing for starters. I had to use some storebought tomatoes for the salad because I used all my CSA tomatoes on the next dish. Unfortunately, I didn't think to get a picture. (My daughter ate the other two cucumbers--one straight up, the other in some sort of rice curry thing she makes herself. I've never been positive what all is in it, but she likes it, so hey. I won't even ask.)

The huge yellow squash, the honkin' big zucchini, the tomatoes, and the pattypan squash were cut into 1" chunks (more or less), tossed with some olive oil, salt, garlic powder (I was out of fresh garlic), and thyme, and roasted in a 400 oven for about 40 minutes. It probably would've taken a lot less time except the squash and zucchini were (have I mentioned?) freaking huge so the veggie mix took up two jelly roll pans that I rotated between two racks. Again, unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of that one either. Too busy trying to get everything on the table! It was yummy, though.

The corn on the cob was done straight up, and boy, was it amazing! Believe it or not, it was my first sweet corn of the season, and we all were raving about it--it was really, really good.

I had forgotten to include the watermelon in the original picture of last week's pick-up, so I snapped a pic as I cut into it a couple of days later. Yes, it is just that sweet and juicy!

Here it is as a salad before dinner one night--a little feta, a little fresh mint from the garden. (This has more feta on it than I'd normally do--the container got away from me. But that's okay, I like feta and watermelon. Nice combination.)

I made Italian sausage and peppers for dinner a night or two later again to use the green peppers. No pictures of that since I just blogged about it awhile back. Looked about the same, although I did better keeping the green pepper actually green. Tasty, tasty, tasty. Next time I'll use chicken sausage, to make the meat match the health factor of the rest of the dish.

The peaches disappeared pretty quickly, just eating out of hand. Very sweet.

The head of broccoli was simply microwaved and used as a side dish with chicken breasts one evening. I'm a bit of a purist where broccoli is concerned--I don't really like it covered in sauces or anything. Just steam it a little bit, add some salt, and I'm good to go.

Sunday morning I was in the mood for a big breakfast and, since I had a lot of those roasted vegetables to use up, I made myself an omelette. Or, at least, what's supposed to be an omelette. I can never get it to flip right. A couple of eggs, the roasted vegetables, a little goat cheese...nummy.

And, the next day, since I still had roasted vegetables left, I picked up some naan from the grocery store, heated it up in the oven for a bit brushed with a wonderful basting oil from Wegmans (love that stuff, use it on a ton of things), then spread some hummus on top, piled the roasted veggies on, shredded some chicken, and topped it with, you guessed it, goat cheese. I drizzled just a touch more basting oil on it, popped it back in the oven for a couple of minutes to heat the veggies back up again, and it was a very tasty lunch.

So that took care of everything, except the watermelon. Somehow I ended up being the only one in the house eating most of that watermelon. It's taking me awhile.

Tonight, I treated myself to a watermelon cocktail.

Don't notice me spitting out the seeds on the patio.

And now, we're up to Week 9! Another bounty!


  • 12 ears of corn this time! Woot!
  • 4 cucumbers
  • 1 zucchini (I dug through the pile to find a smaller one this time)
  • 1 yellow squash (same strategy)
  • 1 patty pan squash (I got a slightly larger one this time because I decided I like it)
  • 2 green peppers
  • tomatoes (maybe 10, still small, but smell amazing)
  • 6 Jersey Mac apples
  • 4 peaches--larger this time, I hope they're still as sweet!
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 yellow onion
  • about 7 or 8 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 eggplant
I've never been a big fan of eggplant. It's a texture thing, really. Eggplant parmesan just makes me gag. Too slippery. But I'm willing to give eggplant in another form a shot. I've seen a recipe for breading and frying slices of it that looks like it might work for me.

I'm not a huge heat person either so I'm going to gift the jalapenos to a family I'll be visiting tomorrow night. They're originally from Burma, so they're all about the hot peppers. They'll love them.

Probably a good thing there's no watermelon this week since I'm still working on last week's. Time for another cocktail.

Food Friday--CSA Pick-up Week 8

I think it's week 8, anyway. I missed two weeks while out of town; I think they'd have been weeks 6 and 7. Let's just call it week 8 and leave it at that.


This week's pick-up includes:
  • 6 small tomatoes that smell heavenly
  • 5 peaches--and since I ate one as soon as I took this picture I can attest that they're wonderful too
  • 2 green peppers
  • 4 cucumbers
  • 2 zucchini (one of which is HUGE)
  • 1 summer or yellow squash (equally HUGE)
  • 1 patty pan squash--my first time for that, but it's supposedly just like summer squash so I'm not concerned
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 8 ears of corn
  • 1 watermelon (that I forget to put in the picture--oops!)

My son is coming home for dinner tonight, so we've also invited my nephew and my in-laws as well, since no one has seen much of the kid this summer. We'll be doing marinated flank steak on the grill, and I'm planning on making homemade bread--either French bread or dinner rolls, haven't decided yet as of this writing. I'll be using up a lot of the CSA produce for the rest of the meal. Definitely corn on the cob, then I may roast up some of the zucchini, patty pan, summer squash, and tomatoes (maybe with some roasted garlic as well, maybe with some onion); I can't decide if I'd rather put the tomatoes in with the roasted veggies or do a cucumber and tomato salad to start. I'll see what strikes me when I start getting everything together.

I may or may not do something with the watermelon as an appetizer. We won't actually have a lot of time for dinner so I don't know that I'll bother with appetizers at all. And my MIL is bringing dessert. So if we don't end up using it tomorrow, we'll eat it Saturday.

The green peppers will go into dinner Saturday night--I've had a hankering for that sausage and peppers dinner I made a few weeks ago. I'll probably use the broccoli with some fish on Sunday night; it'll just be my husband and I home for dinner so it's a good night to go super-light and healthy!

So that's the plan. We'll see what actually happens!

Food Friday--CSA Week 4 Report and Week 5 Pick-Up

Beet & Goat Cheese Pizza
I used up most of week 3 and 4's CSA beets and beet greens on a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza. Although I used the recipe at the link for a little guidance, it's very straightforward. You roast the beets with a little salt and pepper, then peel and slice them. Meanwhile, sauté the beet greens with some onion until they wilt down. Then you simply brush the dough with olive oil, and spread the wilted greens and beets on it. Finally, put the goat cheese on top. Bake it at about 400 or a little higher for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick your crust is, and you're good to go.

I used goat cheese crumbles available at my grocery store because I have those on hand for salads. But a really nice goat cheese would work better--the crumbles got a little dry. I made homemade pizza dough (did the breadmaker recipe without a breadmaker) and rolled it out really thin so I'd get a nice, crispy crust. The texture on the dough was a perfect complement to the soft beet topping.

I already love beets and goat cheese. Putting it on a pizza crust is a plus! I did decide, however, that I'm not overly keen on beet greens. If I get beets again next week, I may try the greens again with a different preparation, but I'd have preferred this pizza without the greens. Maybe some orange slices or an orange sauce or something.

Remember the one CSA green pepper? (It's the one on the right--uniquely shaped but still tasty!)

We had some leftover Italian sausages from the 4th of July so I supplemented that one green pepper with a second from the store, a clove of garlic, an onion, a can of diced tomatoes, a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, and some Italian seasoning. Very tasty sausage and peppers for dinner on Saturday night. Add in some of the dinner rolls I'd made last week and it was a pretty simple, mostly fast dinner. That was the last night for the rolls, though--they were somewhat dried out.

Other than that, this was a pretty light CSA week for me. I've been eating the CSA green beans raw (my fave preparation), and I have to confess the dogs got a couple of the CSA carrots because they looked ever-so-appealingly at me when I opened the vegetable crisper drawer. Plus, either my husband and I were out for dinner or I was home alone and didn't cook. So, admittedly, some produce ended up getting tossed because it turned before I could get to it, for which I feel forever guilty.

I did make some blueberry muffins, however, with fresh blueberries from a U-Pick farm I visited last weekend. Not CSA, but still supporting local agriculture! I used a recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook. Not my favorite--a little on the bland side despite the crumble topping--so if I get out picking again, I'll be checking out different recipes.

Week 5 Pick-Up

My daughter did me the huge favor of doing our CSA pick-up this week since I was (ahem) otherwise occupied at the Ricky Tims Super Seminar during our pick-up time. (I'll be talking about that experience at a different time!)

Week 5:

1 head broccoli (I think maybe it was supposed to be purple broccoli but ours wasn't very purple)

4 cucumbers

2 zucchini

1 yellow squash

4 beets (yay)

purple beans

I've seen these in magazines but haven't ever had them--they're just green beans of a different color, of course. But how pretty! Check out that closeup!

I may not have time to post much about this week's CSA produce since I'll be leaving town in a few days. I'll be making zucchini bread, that much I can guarantee you. (Still have zucchini left from last week.) And those beets? Roasting 'em. Maybe pizza again. The cucumbers are mostly getting eaten raw--DD and I are both big cucumber fans, although the farm provided a recipe for cucumber soup that's intriguing my daughter so we may end up making that over the weekend. And several of those beans didn't even make it into the fridge since I was gnawing them raw while I was prepping everything else.

The next two weeks I won't be around much, so my daughter has instructions to pick up the CSA deliveries and head them straight over to my mother-in-law's house. Unfortunately, I won't be able to get pictures of what my MIL does with them, so no CSA reports for a few weeks until I'm home again!

Food Friday--Let the CSA Adventures Begin!

I've decided to do a CSA this year for the first time. What's a CSA, you may ask? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When participating in a CSA, you buy "shares" in a local farm and, in return, get fresh produce each week. The farmer's markets near us are at times that are difficult for us to fit into our schedule, and although I grow my own herbs, we've had terrible luck with tomatoes in the last few years and I travel quite a bit over the summer, leaving the bulk of the responsibility for summer gardening to my husband. He enjoys gardening, but works long hours himself. So our garden attempts the last few years have been pretty sad.

I finally tracked down a CSA near enough for me to make the weekly pick-ups pretty easily. Last night was our first pick-up.

In this week's bag: peas, kale, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and bok choy. I was afraid we'd get too much to handle but this feels do-able.

Both my daughter and I are fans of certain raw vegetables, straight off the vine. The raw peas made a very tasty appetizer while I was washing everything and figuring out what I was going to make for dinner.

My husband was out for the evening at a work thing, so it was just my vegetarian daughter and I. We decided to go on a cooking adventure and just make it up as we went. Well, "we" being in the royal sense, as it turned out. Normally my daughter does like to help cook but she had two late nights in a row so she begged off; I stuck her with loading the dishwasher after dinner instead. Not a bad trade-off, in my mind. I got to play with new toys, so to speak, as I messed around with new-to-me-produce, and she did most of the kitchen clean-up.

Here was my resulting dinner! (My daughter skipped the salmon and ate her bok choy with some vegetarian chicken nuggets.)

I wasn't as creative with the salmon as I could've been--just sprinkled some five-spice seasoning on it and baked it. I spent too much mental energy on the bok choy. Bok choy is something I've never cooked before, although I've eaten it plenty of times in Asian foods--usually in soups, I believe, although a lot of the Burmese meals I get to eat with my new arrival friends probably have it as well.

I put together a concept in my head and then checked my ideas by some recipes online. Yep! I was in the right ballpark. And it turned out mighty tasty, if I do say so myself! So, here's my recipe for this week:

Sandy's Sauteed Bok Choy
2 bunches bok choy, chopped into 1-2" pieces.
1/2 medium onion, diced or sliced thin
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
garlic to taste (garlic powder or fresh garlic)
2-3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

  • Heat oil, then add onion and ginger and saute for a few minutes until onion begins to turn translucent.
  • Add garlic and saute for another minute.
  • Add bok choy and saute until it cooks down slightly, then add soy sauce.
  • Saute for about 7-8 minutes, or until bok choy stems are crisp-tender.
  • As usual with my own recipes, all amounts are approximate and depend on what you've got on hand, as well as personal taste. I had three or four bunches of bok choy but a couple of them were quite small, so knowing what I typically see available in the grocery story, I'm thinking two larger bunches would be the equivalent. I just used garlic powder this time but fresh garlic would be better, as fresh usually is.
  • I used low-sodium soy sauce and didn't add any other salt. If you use regular soy sauce, you may want to use less. This was just about the right saltiness for me.
  • The bok choy, like any leafy green when you put it in heat, cooks down quite a bit. Using all four bunches that we'd gotten gave me barely enough for my daughter and I, and you can see our servings weren't that big.
Food Friday posts are making a comeback this summer as I go on my CSA adventure! Here are two cookbooks that were highly reviewed on Amazon that I'll be consulting (although I didn't tonight):

The Farmer's Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA and Farmer's Market Foods, by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsqal (CreateSpace, 2012). Looks good, but no pictures with recipes. I miss having pictures. Looking forward to trying the recipes, though.

From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce, by Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (Jones Books, 2004). Again with the no-pictures-thing. When I'm trying to identify produce, a nice color picture would be extremely helpful.

Both of these books have good tips on storage, as well as a wealth of recipes. I have another book I've requested through my public library that was recommended by a friend--I'll let you know about that one when I get it.

I'll leave you with a moment of quilting inspiration...Swiss chard stems. 
(Match those up to your color wheels, why don't you?)